50-year blueprint for Detroit to remove vacant homes
The city has at least 30,000 empty homes, often the target of arson
By Corey Williams
The Associated Press
DETROIT — A 50-year blueprint for revitalizing Detroit, from leveling parts of nearly vacant neighborhoods for parks to relaxing rules for startup companies, was released Wednesday after two years of research and community input.
The project was launched by Mayor Dave Bing, who joined dozens of community, business and philanthropic leaders in unveiling the plan for the shrinking and financially troubled city. The 349-page strategic framework focuses on job growth, land use, improving neighborhoods and rebuilding infrastructure.
It doesn't include financing plans, but at least $150 million in initial funding will come over the next five years from the Kresge Foundation. The private organization, which is based in nearby Troy, has long been active in Detroit-area projects.
"It became clear to me that business as usual would not effectively transform our city, and a new framework for Detroit's future needed to be developed," Bing said Wednesday.
"As mayor of Detroit and a long-time member of this community, I've witnessed the steady decline of a city with so much promise," said Bing, a former NBA star and successful businessman in Detroit. "I'm convinced Detroit can be a world-class city again."
A major focus is on Detroit's ramshackle neighborhoods. The city — which lost a quarter-million people in the last decade — currently has at least 30,000 empty homes and 20 square miles of vacant land.
Among the report's suggestions are targeting vacant land and empty buildings for employment districts to stimulate job growth in neighborhoods. It also recommends encouraging residents living in sparsely populated neighborhoods to move out, then converting the land into open space or community gardens.
Officials said no residents would be left behind, though no mechanism is in place to pay people in those neighborhoods to move to more stable areas of the city.
The report doesn't include specific timelines for projects. For example, it suggests that zoning, land use, and other policies and rules "must be realigned" within the next five years to help the city stabilize some neighborhoods.
But organizers say the report is intended to be a guide for current and future city leaders. It's the culmination of cooperative work by city residents, business owners and others.
"The full potential of this framework will only be realized with the collective efforts and resources of everyone — public, private, philanthropic, nonprofit — all pulling together," Rip Rapson, Kresge's president and chief executive, said as he encouraged other foundations and businesses to get involved.
But the future of the 139-square-mile city is clouded.
In the 1950s, about 1.8 million called Detroit home. But dramatic population and business losses over the last 50 years left Detroit with whispers of a tax base. And the city's current population of about 700,000 people is expected to continue falling.
The city also has a budget deficit of $327 million, and Bing could learn as early as Friday if a state-appointed review team will deem Detroit is in a financial emergency. If that happens, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder could appoint a manager to oversee Detroit's finances.
Bing has said he is focused on his own restructuring plans, which include the loss of 400 to 500 jobs through layoffs and eliminating vacant positions in the coming months. The mayor also has been tearing down thousands of vacant homes and buildings a year — with the goal of 10,000 by the end of 2013.
Along with addressing the dwindling housing needs, the report focuses on igniting business growth. It suggests relaxing business startup regulations to stimulate entrepreneurship, encouraging growth of businesses along economic corridors and developing retail areas accessible by foot.
Other recommendations include establishing neighborhood-based schools to anchor communities, and rezoning and holding land between industrial areas and neighborhoods for future green infrastructure.
The report predicts that improvements would be seen within 10 years, and transformation would occur between years 20 and 50.
"This represents an exciting opportunity for Detroiters to get involved in a process, the scale of which has never been matched on either the national or international stage," said demographer Kurt Metzger, who spearheaded a separate, earlier project that counted the number of abandoned and vacant houses in the city.
"This is not a time for naysayers. It is a time for all of us to take some time to study the plan and see where we can best fit in to truly make a difference."